A sure sign of a piece of drama or film being able to work on an audience is if it takes a subject that someone maybe has no vested interest in and leaves them with a compulsive need to keep watching. Just to clarify, this reviewer has no hatred towards The Royal Family, but I have never centred my life or interests around their activities, except for the joy of having a day off work for their weddings or birthday celebrations.
So, when the first season of Peter Morgan’s Netflix drama The Crown gripped me as much as it did, I was pleasantly surprised, not least because I watched the first season as quickly as possible once I sat down to watch it, being that it was a compulsive, highly addictive series.
Part modern historical drama, part character study of a woman and her family who have dominated British news headlines for as long as we can remember, The Crown takes the events that have been at the forefront of British history, as well as those who have dominated it, and applied it to that most modern of popular culture; the bingeable Netflix drama.
It is without a doubt one of the finest television dramas ever conceived, not to mention the most expensive, costing £100 million to produce the entire first season, with production values that evidently show. This never feels cheap, and with scripts from Peter Morgan, once again returning to the subject of Her Majesty after the film The Queen and the successful stage play The Audience, shows himself to be a major dramatist and chronicler of a woman and her family who are in nearly every major facet of British life.
It also means that it never once feels cheap, nor does it resemble something approaching soapy, tabloid-television, in the manner that some dramas centered around The Royal Family have done in the past. It’s a class act all the way, applying the gripping, adult brilliance of many of the best television shows of this era to the story of a family who are at the forefront or British society.
Most brilliantly of all, there is a beautiful and unique structure to the series. Claire Foy and Matt Smith completely and brilliantly own their roles as Queen Elizabeth and Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, and yet, unlike most television shows that allow the audience to see actors grow older with their characters, we are set to be deprived of them as the show goes ever forward in its planned six seasons, with Olivia Coleman set to take over as Queen Elizabeth in the third and fourth seasons, with Prince Phillip’s recasting still to be determined.
As for the first season, and into the second, the casting is perfection. Claire Foy bringing complexities and realities to a woman who unwillingly finds herself owned by the country and having to act on principles that force her to make some very tough choices throughout the course of the series, some of which affect her standing and relationships with her sister Margaret and her husband Phillip. An ongoing subplot concerning Margaret (a superb Vanessa Kirby) and her relationship with Peter Townsend (Ben Miles) sees Morgan really put on the screws to Elizabeth when it comes to her torn allegiances to both her family and duty to the country and it’s institutions.
It’s possible that the series may take liberties or some sort of interpretation of the events, but damn, does it make for increasingly compulsive television that manages to be effortlessly classy, gripping and brilliant. Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, plus a superb Hans Zimmer theme, completes the package, while directors such as Stephen Daldry brings a look that is cinematic and classy. It without doubt the best looking series on television today.
Even more brilliantly, it takes a piece of casting that could have destabilised the series and turn it into one of its biggest assets. When it was announced that John Lithgow was going to play Winston Churchill, there was a sense of skepticism in the air, but instead Lithgow makes the role his own, coming on like he’s going to apply the usual brand of stereotypical quirks associated with the role and turns him into a deeper, more complex portrayal, something that reaches its zenith in the penultimate episode.
In terms of performance though, this is Claire Foy’s show, all the way. Her portrayal of a young Queen Elizabeth is one for the ages, and every bit as brilliant as that of Helen Mirren in The Queen. The combination of such a complex performance that pulls in many directions, coupled with Morgan’s superlative scripts, make this not only one of last year’s very best shows, but leaves one eagerly anticipating its upcoming return.
The Crown: Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix. Let us know what you thought of the season.